HEALTH & CARE

Identifying False Pregnancy in Dogs And What You Can Do About It

false pregnancy in dogs
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

You have a female dog in the house and she is not yet spayed. Suddenly she starts acting lethargic and nauseous. She has gained weight, is exhibiting mammary enlargement and even started producing milk. By the looks of it, she really does seem pregnant. But then she has never been out of your sight and you know she hasn’t been in contact with a male dog. What is happening?!

Relax and breathe. If indeed she has stayed within your property all this time, then she might just be experiencing Pseudocyesis. Most commonly known as false pregnancy in dogs, this condition is actually not that uncommon in intact or unsprayed female dogs. Understanding this condition fully leads to better resolution of the whole situation. For more information on spaying and neutering your dogs, click on the link to this topic.

How to know if a dog is experiencing false pregnancy?

When a female dog is having phantom pregnancy, the symptoms she displays are more or less similar to what an actually pregnant dog would show.

Identify a false pregnancy in dogs

Chances are high that it is pseudopregnancy if you are sure that your pet has not been in close contact with intact male dogs but she exhibits a lot of the following signs:

Physical changes

  • Weight fluctuations (there might be weight loss due to lack of appetite or weight gain due to sudden increase in appetite)
  • Abdominal distention, enlargement or swelling
  • Mammary glands enlargement
  • Mammary glands secretion (can look like water or brownish fluid)
  • Milk production
  • Vomiting
  • General lack of energy, lethargy
  • Mucoid vaginal discharge
  • Appearing as if she is going into labor

Behavioral changes

  • Aggression (the dog will be grumpy towards you or other dogs in the house)
  • Depression (suddenly becomes withdrawn or clingy)
  • Restlessness (there might be lots of whining involved too)
  • Anxiety
  • Nesting behavior (watch out for your dog tearing up paper or a blanket and making a nest somewhere in the house which she thinks is safe and comfortable)
  • Digging (often combined with the nesting behavior)
  • Mothering (she might latch onto a stuffed toy, shoe or other items and literally mother these objects)
  • Self-nursing activity

As can be seen on this list, pseudocyesis can be tough to distinguish from real pregnancy in dogs and it can be quite stressful dealing with the whole matter. After all, although you are fully committed to your pet right now, you might just not be ready to have a whole litter on your hands.

Dog anxiety

This is why all dog owners are highly advised to be vigilant when their intact dogs are in heat. Determining a phantom pregnancy can be done more decisively if you are sure that your pet has not bred.

What causes pseudopregnancy in dogs?

Pseudocyesis is basically a condition triggered by hormonal fluctuations in female dogs. What happens is that when they undergo estrus, otherwise known as being in heat, their progesterone levels increase considerably and this could go on for as long as the heat cycle lasts. Now once that is over, progesterone levels decrease but another hormone, prolactin, is produced more in the dogs’ bodies.

When this happens, a hormonal imbalance can occur. This disparity can result to physiological changes in the dogs’ bodies, which can make them think they are pregnant and would then result to them exhibiting behaviors common to expectant dogs.

Dog at vet checking false pregnancy

This is not that rare a condition and often happens about 4 to 6 weeks after a female dog’s heat cycle. The pregnancy symptoms can go for several months and can be so convincing that even expert breeders can be fooled. So if your dog shows signs of pregnancy but you are convinced she has not bred, it is best to check with your veterinarian just to confirm things. If the situation is indeed false pregnancy, the symptoms can be waited out as they often disappear on their own. However, if this persists, then it is best to talk to your vet and come up with the most appropriate solution for your dog.

Other causes

There are times when regular hormonal imbalance is not the cause of the dog false pregnancy. It could be any or a combination of the following:

Hypothyroidism – a dysfunction in a dog’s thyroids can lead to blood changes which may then result to the overproduction of prolactin. As outlined above, a hormonal imbalance may occur and lead to false pregnancy. It is worth knowing that there are several dog breeds predisposed to hypothyroidism. To learn more about this condition, check out our article on the symptoms, causes and treatments for dog hypothyroidism.

These include Mastiffs, Rottweilers, Dalmatians, Siberian Huskies, American Staffordshire Terriers, Malteses, Border Collies, Chinese Shar-Peis, Weimaraners and Bernese Mountain Dogs. If you own any of these breeds, canine hypothyroidism may be something you want to know more about and prepare for.

Mastitis – also known as inflammation of the mammary glands, this is a condition wherein a female dog’s milk ducts get infected. Symptoms can include swelling. Although this often happens to dogs that are actually pregnant and are lactating, the reverse can be true – meaning when there is an infection, the swelling of the mammary glands might lead your dog to think she’s pregnant and she might even lactate.

Mastitis at dogs

Cancer of the mammary gland – any tumor growing in the mammary gland can lead to inflammation and swelling similar to mastitis. Same as above, your pet may think she is pregnant, which can result to her exhibiting other symptoms. Read our piece on canine breast cancer to help you learn more of this condition.

Abdominal enlargement – there are various reasons why this could happen, among which are: organ swelling, uterus infection or fluid accumulation. At first it might seem that indeed your dog is pregnant because her stomach is enlarging. She might think this is so as well, and once again might display pregnancy signs.

With these causes, it really is best to see a veterinarian if your dog starts showing phantom pregnancy signs. Although a simple hormonal imbalance can go away on its own, the other underlying causes above can be very serious and would require immediate attention.

Another important thing to remember is that pseudopregnancy can occur after a female dog has been spayed. If the spaying was done within the heat cycle when progesterone levels were high, the sudden physical change can lead to the hormonal imbalance behind false pregnancies in dog. So it might be best to confirm with your vet if your dog is in heat or not and if she is, then go through with the spaying after the reproductive cycle. Verifying a dog’s ovulation is easily done through testing progesterone levels.

What are the diagnostic procedures needed?

The first step is to set an appointment with a trusted vet to have your dog checked. Prepare the details of your pet’s health history. Compile as much information as you can because every little bit of detail is helpful to the vet. Your dog’s recent behavioral and physical conduct will then be checked as thoroughly as possible. Expect that she will undergo several lab tests including a complete blood count test.

Her biochemistry profile will also be checked and a urinalysis is most likely going to be scheduled. If it is false pregnancy, the tests will often come back showing regular results unless there are other underlying causes such as those outlined above.

Dog abdominal x-ray imaging

To further confirm that it is indeed pseudopregnancy, your vet might request abdominal x-ray imaging and an ultrasound to be done just to make sure there are not any puppies developing. Radiographs may also be scheduled in order to rule out any chances of your dog suffering from Pyometra, a serious condition that requires immediate action. This disease is basically a build-up of pus inside the dog’s uterus accompanied by severe infection. Although this illness is not common, if early treatment is not given then the condition can be life-threatening.

Once your vet conclusively rules out any other illnesses and identifies that the condition is indeed false pregnancy, effective treatment can then be carried out.

What treatments are required?

Experts advise that if the symptoms are mild, then owners should just wait things out as the condition will resolve itself in two to three weeks. It is not advisable use warm compresses to mitigate milk production or breast secretions. It is not a good idea to wrap your dog as well even if you are just trying to minimize the messy effects of lactation.

All that these will do is stimulate the mammary glands, which could lead to further inflammation, increased secretion and other complications. Your dog might become grumpier too because of the discomfort. If your dog licks her breasts constantly, over stimulation could also happen and so it is advised to use an Elizabethan collar on her.

Aside from this, your veterinarian might suggest the use of diuretics (example: Furosemide) and mild sedatives to speed up the recovery process. To minimize lactation, it can help to decrease your dog’s water and food intake. This can be done by not feeding your dog for 6-10 hours for several nights. This might sound cruel but the lack of food and water will indeed help suppress the lactation process. Of course, this can be dangerous for your pet if not done right so it is best to seek guidance from the veterinarian when implementing this.

False pregnancy medicine

When nesting and mothering behaviors are severe, vets advise to remove the puppy-substitute objects from your dog’s presence. This might lead to more discomfort for your pet but this will hasten the end of the false pregnancy.

Drug therapy may also be suggested by the vet. This involves the use of Bromocriptine (such as Parlodel® and Sandox®), which is a drug used to decrease milk production. This can be bought from a compounding pharmacy at a relatively reasonable price. The medicine is usually given to your dog for one to two weeks or until the lactation process stops.

A common side effect of this drug is an upset stomach so this is something you need to be prepared for. It must be noted however that this drug has faced many issues in the US despite its wide use in other countries because it can cause abortion in pregnant animals. That is why it must be used with care.

Then there is Cabergoline, another drug that can help speed up the cessation of false pregnancies in dogs. It has fewer side effects but tends to be more expensive than Bromocriptine. Testosterone and Mibolerone drugs may also be used but each have their own negative side effects and so their use should be carefully assessed by the veterinarian. Natural supplements may be used as well to help your dog deal with her condition, which can be highly stressful especially if the symptoms are quite severe.

Finally, it is advisable to have your pet spayed about a month after she experienced false pregnancy. It is not a good idea to have her spayed while she is still in the grips of the condition because this will just cause further stress and does little to relieve the whole situation.

Preventing and dealing with pseudopregnancy in dogs

Spaying as early as possible is the best way to prevent false pregnancy in dogs. Minding your pet’s overall health will go a long way as well. She should not be subjected to unhealthy diets and living conditions which might lead to problems with the mammary glands and uterus.

Read our article on when to spay or neuter your dog to give you more options.

Balanced diet plan

When pseudocyesis does occur, it is best to stay calm, patient and understanding. Pregnancy, real or otherwise, is a stressful condition for any creature and if the humans in the house are anxious, your dog’s stress levels will just increase. So stay grounded and proceed with care and proper guidance from your veterinarian. If there are children in the house, do your best to keep them aware and instruct them on what to do so as not to aggravate the whole situation.

In conclusion

Phantom pregnancy is one of the things owners of female dogs will potentially come across. Often it is not a life-threatening situation and can be weathered out. There might be underlying causes however which need more attention. So as a whole, a veterinarian’s advice is still valuable and best sought when the situation demands it.

 

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.

  • Winona Matthews

    My brother’s dog who has been spayed is showing sign of false pregnancy. My sibling is worried since his beloved pooch is lethargic and won’t eat. Is this a natural effect of spaying? If you have a dog in a similar situation, what worked for you?
    What wholesome food can we give the dog to encourage her to eat?

    • In my opinion, it would be better to have a quick appointment to the veterinarian. Lack of appetite and lethargy are some of the temporary effects of spaying, but it could be something else.

  • Lorrie Simmons

    One of our dogs who was spayed 3 years ago is showing signs of false pregnancy. What is alarming is she’s being so irritated and sensitive with our other female dog. Is this behavior a temporary thing? Will it go away once the false pregnancy resolves itself?

    • It is part of the usual side effects in the psychological aspect. There are some instances where it resolves by itself, but others may require further intervention.

  • NFourie

    my dog has milk in almost all of her teats , she was in season about 2 months ago and we tried to keep our male separated. My male dog is trying to mount her again and she is making herself accessible . Is she pregnant ? Will a male dog still try to mate with a pregnant female?

  • The male will still try to mate the pregnant female even when it is a false positive pregnancy. There will be aggression from the female because it will be uncomfortable. She might be pregnant but you will need a confirmation from the veterinarian.

  • Helen ross

    Hi, my bitch is lactating on just one nipple more than any other but she is rump itchy all the time, is this also a symptom of false pregnancy. Thank you.

    • It really is a possible case of pseudopregnancy. If this is something that persists, I would recommend spaying to stabilize the hormones.

  • Mikaela Jalbert

    My dog has false pregnancies VERY often, I’d say about every other heat or so. She’s 5 and is a Chihuahua. Her false pregnancies have increased in frequency (from once in a while to just about every heat). Could this be a medical condition? Or perhaps her hormones simply fluctuate more than the average dog
    She’s actually in a false pregnancy right now

  • Suzie

    My two year old was bred 3 times. She is now having milk carrying a stuffed animal and crying.

    • TTeddy

      What diet and are you giving any supplements?

  • Wyatt Robinson

    Hi, Mikaela,

    I believe there is something to do with hormonal imbalance on your dog’s case. This, on top on a possible recurring stress, can mix together and yield pregnancy-like symptoms. In addition, this can also be medical condition, and I would recommend a routine appointment with the veterinarian.

  • Wyatt Robinson

    It must be the hormones. She needs a little more patience and just make sure you’ll always be there for here.

  • Indu

    My 3 yr old Lhasa apso has had a pseudo pregnancy after her estrus thrice this year.1st in Jan 2016,2nd in june2016 ,3rd in oct 2016.each time after a gap of 4wks or so after the estrus.first time she was showing the nesting behaviour and milk production but this time she is showing only aversion to food,vomiting and lethargy.is this ok?

    • Wyatt Robinson

      While the nesting behaviour and milk production is part of the manifestations of false pregnancy, the loss of appetite and lethargy are the things that concern me. It would be better to have her checked by the veterinarian within the soonest possible time.

  • Alex

    My poor baby, 6 years old Yorkshire Terrier put on weight very quickly, cause she has been eating much more for the last few days and today I have noticed that she has milk. I’m taking her to vet tomorrow, but I’m sure she is not pregnant.
    I hope she will be fine :(

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Let us know what happened, Alex. It can be pseudopregancy or some fluctuation in the hormones if you are certain that your Yorkie is not pregnant.

  • Julie

    have false pregnancy happening. Was all set for ovary sparing spay when this happened. Getting conflicting answers on probability of this happening again, from its random to it will happen every heat cycle and get progressively worse.

    • Wyatt Robinson

      The problem with false pregnancy is that there is no definite pattern for it. Some get it a lot more frequent than others, which might be the case for your dog, while some dogs experience it as rare as once to never. The probability of it happening again is high on your case and the chances of being accompanied by other symptoms is also likely to occur.

  • Julie Devereux

    I have a 4yr old patterdale bitch that’s having a phantom .she was due to be spay the end of this month (12th week after heat) as advised by vet but I’ve cancelled the op. I plan to wait out the phantom .but can I get her spay and how close to the next heat can I get her done or will I have to wait for the next heat and wait again.? Really need to get her done as I have an old male spaniel in tact . The patterdale always seems to have a phantom after every heat . This is the second op cancellation I’ve had to do ?
    Please advise me ……thanks julie D

    • Will Wright

      My patterdale was due to be spayed today, 3 months after her heat. Took her to the vets this morning, and she literally started to lactate. My vet said to wait a month, and take her back to be spayed if she has dried up. If not, then expensive drugs to help dry up before having the op.

      • Wyatt Robinson

        Will, did the lactation episodes stopped or it keeps on coming back? There are medications in the market that can help impede the lactation but I would like to know if the frequency is still there.

    • TTeddy

      Find a holistic or homeopathy vet, they are a lot better to work alongside you and they’ll treat the dog as a whole.

      • Wyatt Robinson

        This is actually a good alternative to conservative approach to normalize the behaviour and physiologic process like lactation. Phantoms are more prevalent to some breeds, and as far as I remember, Patterdale is one of those breeds.

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Julie, let me know if the previous medical management helped even just a bit. If the phantom occurred again after the previous heat, then something needs to be done further.

  • Helen Addis

    Hello,we have an american bulldog who is nine yrs old…Missy is a lovely tempered dog and is experiencing her 4th false pregnancy in 2 yrs…why can we not give her a teddy or something similar…..she is always very protective of kittens or dos crying and we feel she needs something to love.
    Thank you Helen

    • Wyatt Robinson

      The problem in providing an inanimate object to coax her emotions is that she will become too attached to it. Are there any behavioural changes observed whenever she’s having a false pregnancy? Do let us know and we’ll be more than happy to help you further.

  • sabrosita789

    I found a tagless Staffordshire bull terrier female while walking my dog 2 weeks ago. Her mammary glands are swollen. Took her to the vet 5 days ago. She did ultrasound but saw no pups- she didn’t rule out pregnancy though. How likely is it that a dog’s mammaries would grow in the first 2 or 3 weeks of pregnancy?

    • Wyatt Robinson

      The swelling of the mammary glands may or may not be an indication of false pregnancy. It can also be caused by a systemic infection especially when there is discharge other than milk.

  • Alison Sinclair

    I have a 14yr old dog who was sterilized 6yrs ago. She is now suffering from a phantom pregnancy! It appears, the vet failed to remove all her mammary glands and now the poor little love is producing milk, etc, etc!

    • Juliette Morgan Lundgren

      They don’t remove the mammary glands, only the reproductive organs, she needs see her vet to make sure there is no infection.

      • Wyatt Robinson

        Good point, Juliette. When a dog is spayed, only the ovaries are removed to prevent ovulation and eventually lead to successful pregnancy.

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Some dogs to lactate even when they are spayed or not pregnant (or both). It depends on the hormonal structure and physiologic response of the dog to false pregnancy. To inhibit the production of milk, it is better to consult your vet for this if he/she will recommend medical intervention.

  • Stacie Furuya

    My English Bull Terrier puppy has just had her 1st heat at 7 months. She is now showing signs of phantom pregnancy. My question is, she has always been itchy and does the Belly Crawl, her nipples are swollen and raw, is this a symptom of Phantom Pregnancy? What can i do to alleviate her discomfort?

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Her nipples might be raw because of too much friction. However, it can be alleviated with non-flavored petroleum jelly to help prevent cracking or further soreness.

  • Rebecca Floyd

    hi i really need some advice i adopted a bostein terrier/? and a week after i got her i noticed she was eating grass everyday her boobs are swollen bad with fever they feel real hot,also she has milk in them and she is licking them alot and also cleans her vagina alot i think there is a discharge. i jus got her but i know she isnt pregant, but it could be a possibility that she had a litter and the previous owner didnt tell me because i seen them selling little puppies that look just like her. I dont know what to do im trying to get the money up to take her to the vet ,but is their anything i can do till i can get her tothe vet. can i get her some meds over counter to help her. thanks to anyone who could give me some advise. she is my service doggy and i love her so much i hate to see her like this. please what can i do

    • Wyatt Robinson

      I believe your hunch that your dog previously delivered puppies might be true. As the symptoms and behaviour manifest a previous maternal instinct, there might have been a predisposing factor like a previous pregnancy (which may or may have not succeeded). What you can do is to find a good diversion whenever this moment occurs. Keep her immersed in a good distraction, like play schemes that are physically acceptable for Boston Terriers.

  • Kirill Ponomaryov

    Hello there! My dog regularly suffers from fake pregnancy but the only symptom is enlargement of her mammory glands and medium lacation. Also, she becomes emotionless, slow-thinking. She tends to sleep more. the other symptoms are missing.
    Do you think I should worry? or is it an acceptable state? What are the risks she can have problems with mammory glads like mastopathy or maligancies?
    are there any good ways to neutralize or diminish lactation?

    • Wyatt Robinson

      She might be experiencing stress-related false pregnancy. There should be a diversion of the stress, like a daily casual walks and play. Also, there are medicines that can be given to help decrease the lactation output.

  • rachael cosgrove

    my dog has been acting strange she isn’t gaining weight she barely eats barley drinks and licks her tits and vag a lot and is lactating she has had mastitis before and i know for a fact she hasn’t been bred at all she is 9 years old and i’m worried because she has started clinging to me and a month ago her best friend my moms dog had passed away due to c-section complications and none of the puppies survived

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Dogs that never had the chance to become pregnant will exhibit these manifestations and becoming a clingy dog is more visible to one-person dogs or homes with only one person living in the house. You are her life, and as she grows older the emotional dependence becomes a lot stronger.

  • Janesa

    My 12 year old Chihuahua is having a false pregnancy. I thought she was sick and dieing… She was in bed for all day & night, very abnormal for her. And she growled at me when I went to pet her in bed, she’s never been aggressive towards me. I took her to vet, they gave Xray and exam and sure enough it’s a false pregnancy! Doc gave antibiotics for 10 days and said to come back on day 3or4 for a shot of horomones to balance her out. So thankful to know she will be ok!

    • Wyatt Robinson

      I’m glad that everything has been correctly addressed, Janesa. False pregnancy is somewhat holistic as it involves emotional and physiological disturbances, but proper management can help you and your fur baby to pull through.

  • Jason Duggan

    My shih Tzu has never had a litter yet I have had her mated twice at a breeders, with a poodle. On both occasions she has had a phantom pregnancy. Can anyone explain this and will it continue if I mate her again??

  • Michaela Alison Dollimore

    My 6 yr old chuwawa has been really clingy n not wanting to get off her bed, and not been near any other dogs at all. She’s started to leak from her nipples, creamy watery liquid but I had a feel of her nipples just to check for lumps and there was a popping sensation under her skin and some thick White stuff shot out the nipple. How can I tell if it a phantom or mastitis, can anyone help?

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